Ad and marketing creatives

Webinar, Schmebinar!

I hate the word "webinar."

I don't mind "podcast" or "blogosphere" or "Wikipedia," and I happen to love "netiquette." But there's something about "webinar" that produces a frisson of ickiness every time I see or hear it, an inward "ew."

A likeminded Facebook wag expressed this visceral aversion in naming the group he founded "Change the word 'webinar' to another word that doesn't trigger my gag reflex," "dedicated to the elimination of the word 'webinar' from a decent culture's lexicon."

In response, one innocent posted: "I actually had never heard the word before. Do people really use it in sentences with a straight face?" This person has apparently been insulated, hitherto, from my world, rife as it is with senseless acts of violence committed against the language by people attempting to teach, coach or otherwise instruct.

That my prickly disregard for "webinar" is shared, however, does not explain why this Net neologism inspires such ire.

Perhaps it's because "seminar," from which "webinar" is so inelegantly derived, is such a respectable word. Quoth

Etymology: German, from Latin seminarium, nursery
Date: 1863
1: a group of advanced students studying under a professor with each doing original research and all exchanging results through reports and discussions
2: a (1): a course of study pursued by a seminar (2): an advanced or graduate course often featuring informality and discussion; b: a scheduled meeting of a seminar or a room for such meetings
3: a meeting for giving and discussing information

'Tis truly a noble word. "Webinar?" Ignoble at best.

Maybe "webinar" gives me hives because it's so linguistically imprecise. Retired Winston-Salem Journal editor Richard Creed, in a 2007 column, broke down the roots of "seminar," citing "semin," translated as "a beginning" and "arium," meaning "place." Thus, he posits: "Etymologically, [webinar] can mean nothing more than a web place. It could be argued, therefore, that anyone who sets up any kind of web site — historical, equestrian, religious or pornographic, for instance — has set up a webinar ... Webinar is a mindless perversion of seminar." Not that a mindful perversion would make it any better.

And so, I tilt at windmills as "webinar" gains an ever more tenacious toehold in the language. Heck, there are even webinars on webinars, so I suspect my entreaties to just say "seminar" — its location in cyberspace made clear in context — or "online seminar" will go unheeded. (I can hear it now: "Online seminar? Good God, woman — that's five syllables!")

But I shall not give up the fight; once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more — "Unsubscribe," anyone?

I know you, too, can be a hater. Get splenetic with your own "webinar" in the comments below.

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Julia Rubiner is a partner in Editorial Emergency, a Los Angeles copy shop specializing in content manufacturing and brand communications for entertainment, lifestyle and nonprofit concerns. She is also a personal-branding consultant, writing resumes, LinkedIn summaries and executive bios, among other tools, for people in creative fields who want to advance their careers. A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, she was an editor of reference publications. Rubiner wears the label "word nerd" as a badge of honor. Click here to read more articles by Julia Rubiner.

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Comments from our users:

Friday August 13th 2010, 7:42 AM
Comment by: Lynne M. (Brighton United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland)
I'm confused...who is the 'I' who hates 'webinar'? Two authors are listed.
Friday August 13th 2010, 8:10 AM
Comment by: David C. (Carrboro, NC)
I concur. It is a despicable term, overriding and denigrating any content promised through said [despicable term].
Friday August 13th 2010, 8:13 AM
Comment by: Karen G. (MD)
Yes, I hate the word "webinar," too. The word seems slimy to me because I associate it with the younger cousins of telemarketers--those online flim-flam marketing pests that just won't go away.
Friday August 13th 2010, 8:48 AM
Comment by: Stephen H. (Longmont, CO)
Although I strongly concur about "webinar," part of the reason for me is the nomenclature "web." The entire idea of "the Web" refers specifically to the interlinking capabilities of HTML that allow content from one "location" to link to and "carry" you to another. A collection of these links then creates a "web" and the union of all such sets of connections is "the Web."

This concept comes from longer ago, when the concept of the "Internet" grew out of the networks between networks, a literal etymology of the word.

So, I agree with you that "seminar" is the correct terminology, and "online seminar" the appropriate term. Of course, "virtual seminar" would add another syllable, and is also a reasonable replacement.
Friday August 13th 2010, 8:50 AM
Comment by: Joxs
Couldn't agree more. I can never bring myself to use that word. Always strikes me as having something to do with a bunch of ducks.
Friday August 13th 2010, 9:16 AM
Comment by: Federico E. (Camuy, PR)
Bryan A. Garner used webinar as a starting point for a discussion on portmanteau words in a New York Times column back in February. The column is found here. He did suggest webinar was okay (he capitalized it, actually: Webinar), but highlighted the tricky process of accepting neologisms, a process in which "the entire language community becomes the judge. Once a word acquires general currency, only a hopelessly out-of-touch pedant would take up quixotic arms against it. Through the force of linguistic natural selection, some words win their way. Others don’t."
Friday August 13th 2010, 9:19 AM
Comment by: JoAnna V. (Rock Rapids, IA)
I have never really liked the word much either. "Nar" conjures up a sound similar to gnarly and "webi" makes me feel caught. Caught in a web of gnarliness? Who wants to sign up for that?

Nevermind the fact that the word really has no definition. Plus, most normal people (e.g. non-writers and non-marketers) haven't even heard of the word before. It's just another techy word, born of convenience--heedless to appropriate grammar (as most techy terminology is.)
Friday August 13th 2010, 11:52 AM
Comment by: Mary Lee M.
As JoAnna points out, this is "another techy word, born of convenience--heedless to appropriate grammar (as most techy terminology is.)"

But as Anonymous says, "Once a word acquires general currency, only a hopelessly out-of-touch pedant would take up quixotic arms against it. Through the force of linguistic natural selection, some words win their way. Others don’t."

The technology behind this term is so useful and getting better all the time that it demands convenient words. Only time will tell whether Webinar will continue to be one of them, but from where I sit it looks as if the language community may have already judged - in today's world of business the term has obviously won its way.

We all have our pet peeves. Get over it Julia, and move on.
Friday August 13th 2010, 12:23 PM
Comment by: Sue B.
I suppose we will always have with us those who would nail a language in place, or who would set up a committee of "qualified" individuals to judge what words best communicate that which we would like to communicate, but since there is never anything new to say on that score (visualize Grumpy, sitting on his stool in a corner while the rest of the dwarves party with Sleeping Beauty), I can't imagine why the Visual Thesaurus keeps running these boring , meaningless articles.
Friday August 13th 2010, 12:40 PM
Comment by: Mattie D.
When a word conveys a meaning to the listener/reader it fullfills its function it becomes a part of the language and no linquistic analysis is going to change that. GIVE UP
Friday August 13th 2010, 1:59 PM
Comment by: Zez (Fredericksburg, VA)
I like webinar! It sounds like a Slovak surname: "The guests included Milan Bednar and Daniel Webinar."

. . . but only as a Slovak surname.
Friday August 13th 2010, 4:08 PM
Comment by: Sunette V. (Dublin 18 Ireland)
Well, in the real world we find webinars quite useful and it explains exactly what it needs to say: "Sharing the presentation from my computer's screen with other users that are not in the same location". What do you suggest it should be called? If you want to gag about a word, suggest an alternative :-)
Saturday August 14th 2010, 12:19 PM
Comment by: Gene W. (West Plains, MO)
Words and dictionaries are purely arbitrary. The belief that their etymology should follow some past set of ordained patterns is also arbitrary. "Webinar" conveys its meaning clearly. It is a perfectly fine word.
Saturday August 14th 2010, 11:16 PM
Comment by: Thinking Reed
The word seminar, it seems to me, implies virtual presence, whereas webinar implies attendance on the web, in perhaps hundreds (indeed thousands) of locations. In art, form follows function; in language, meaning creates form. The term webinar communicates a specific reality that I can relate to. I get it. It doesn't offend my sensibilities.

To badger this tech related term denies the fact that change requires new words; new concepts, new meaning. We can resist change, but change will come despite apparent linguistic arrogance and pseudo intellectual superiority. Dare we cling to the dusty shelves of meaning past? Or shall we move on to conquer more worthy subjects; like political correctness, clearly an albatross that denies deep concepts of truth and value for the sake of political expedience. Truly I offer a most worthy phrase to debate.
Sunday August 15th 2010, 8:39 AM
Comment by: Joel M.
I must say I'm pleased to see this article. While I appreciate the above defenses of the word's functionality and clarity, and of its deserved place in the vernacular alongside other new words of dubious etymological origin - as, I'll bet, do Simon and Julia - I believe the authors really mean to take the opportunity to vent their distaste for its clunky aesthetic. Maybe it does provide more information, more quickly, than "online seminar", but I agree: it's lame. It's an "eww..." word. I can't help but picture its inventor saying it for the first time and thinking how clever it is: "Wait just a minute here -- oh, that's good. This is fantastic...". Eww...

I think Mary Lee is correct in that it is here to stay, though I hope the world of business isn't always the spearhead for change in the language; after all, they were also proud to offer us the new verb, "bumper-sticker", as in, "Boil that down - can you bumper-sticker it for me?". I have (with good nature, I hope) paused meetings after an "eww..." word "to remark, "Bob, did you hear what you just said?".

I imagine the authors don't expect this one to go away, but I also think it's therapeutic to take aim when we see a new phrase brazenly wearing a "kick me" sign. I don't think they're opposed to moving on. To me, it's just their way of processing the "eww..." so that they can move on.
Sunday August 15th 2010, 9:32 AM
Comment by: Michael W. (LIVERPOOL & EXETER United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland)
Like you I too hate the word 'webinar'. I was particularly miffed when someone was speaking to me and mentioned the word - my repsonse was 'a what?' The slightly senering response was 'well you're so last century'- everyone knows what it is!
Sunday August 15th 2010, 4:08 PM
Comment by: Mary Jean V.
I am a fan of the word webinar. It immediately conveys a type of seminar that is held on the web.
Perhaps the word doesn't have the etymological pedigree of the word seminar, but it is very useful in the real world. It's it ironic how the word I just used, pedigree, with it's humble origin of pied de gru or "foot of a crane", now takes on new meaning in our time. I can just hear the naysayers of the 15th century appalled about the use of such a word to signify a pureblood. Over time their naysaying was quelled.
Sunday August 15th 2010, 4:44 PM
Comment by: Ann W.
Words come and words go, but whether they have the proper roots or are just street wordkins, they'll outlast us all.
Sunday August 15th 2010, 5:11 PM
Comment by: Luis M A. (Saltillo Mexico)
Language is easily corrupted by mindless people somehow trying to invent, or at least, to make us believe they are contributing to the building of a new sort of communication terms related to the internet. They do not care about the distortion they bring to reality's description and produce this kind ot hateful terms.
Sunday August 15th 2010, 6:46 PM
Comment by: Arturo NY (KATONAH, NY)
The problem is, what word would you use instead?

I happen to hate the world 'advertising'. It reminds me of a man who once worked for me and told me that prior to taken this job he'd been in show business. With a little probing I learned that he had run a carousel in a carnival at the edge of town.

Advertising stands for so many activities that it has become flabby and imprecise. But what to use instead? Commercial speech is better, but clunky. I'm open to suggestions.

It's not enough to complain about a word you hate. Speak up when you have an alternative
Monday August 16th 2010, 3:21 PM
Comment by: Nancy E.
I agree. Wouldn't it be simpler to use the term webcast?
Monday August 16th 2010, 10:18 PM
Comment by: Jane B. (Winnipeg Canada)Top 10 Commenter
I agree with using a whole lot of syllables for this, web seminar or online seminar.

To me, webcast is news. They got there first with that combination. The idea of a seminar is information, deeper than news, as the root implies.

I struggle with many of the newer words and phrases, however, so am probably holding biases.

I've come across the expression '...not a problem'. I don't like that expression, but in this novel, it's being used by a character in 1971 and I don't even think the phrase was in use then! I'm wishing that I could check the history of whole phrases better!
Wednesday September 22nd 2010, 12:23 PM
Comment by: Henryk W. (Roedovre Denmark)
Well, if "blog" - short for "(we)b log" - is so widely accepted, "web (sem)inar" may as well become "webinar". I'm afraid it's here to stay. And tell you what: it's probably not even the worst, and there is much worse to come. Cheers!
Wednesday September 22nd 2010, 5:25 PM
Comment by: Michael W. (LIVERPOOL & EXETER United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland)
Since my 1st comment on 15th August I've heard the word even more frequently. I have been working in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia for 2 years and in the Middle East the word is gaining more & more popularity, in fact I've heard collegues from similar orginisations to mine referring to Webinars even more frequently - it seems everyone is getting on the band wagon. As a consequence, I think the battle may be lost and we will just have to accept it in it's crudest of forms - after all, I cannot come up with an alternative that seems to have the attractiveness of the word in question.
Mike w Riyadh (& Lverpoool UK)

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